Tag Archives: presidential family

Uzbekistan – The struggle for succession


On Saturday November 15, the Uzbek president’s grandson Islam Karimov, named after his grandfather, released an interview to the BBC to bring attention to the case of his mother Gulnara, who has been held unofficially under house arrest since last March. This is only the latest episode of a family saga (Presidential Power Blog reported on this case here and here) whereby the members of the presidential family are fighting for power ahead of the presidential election scheduled for early 2015 – however in a situation where the incumbent president does not seem willing to leave power.

The young Islam Karimov had already lobbied for his mother’s release at the end of June 2014, when he gave an interview to the Russian channel Ren TV. During the interview he made clear that his mother was the victim of ‘powerful individuals’ who want to get rid of her fearing that she will standing for president. In his latest BBC interview, the young Karimov also made an appeal to his grandfather to ‘understand the extent of the manipulation’ around him and to understand that ‘we would never go against you and do what they say we would do, and I hope you fix the situation, as I know you have the power to do so’. The young Karimov indeed proposes a reading of the current situation consistent with his mother’s, who has claimed for over a year now that she is the victim of a conspiracy plotted by her mother, her younger sister and Rustam Inoyatov (the head of the powerful National Security Agency) behind the president’s back. According to Islam Karimov, the president is prevented from having any information about the current events. In late 2013, Gulnara accused her mother and sister of keeping the president in a state of ignorance and claimed to be the victim of judicial and physical persecution orchestrated by Inoyatov.

Aside from the gossipy interest that a Gulnara-like character raises among observers (a glamourous pop singer, businesswoman, politician, diplomat, philanthropist and fashion designer), experts are carefully watching for Karimov’s moves in search of information about his succession. According to an analyst, and contrary to what the young Karimov claims, the hypothesis that the president is unaware of what is going on is rather unlikely and, according to the Russian political scientist Alexey Malashenko, Gulnara’s arrest is relevant to the issue of succession because it clearly underlines that President Karimov is neither ready nor willing to leave power. Not only is it the case that Gulnara Karimova now has no chance of succeeding her father, but, according to Malashenko, her fall from grace indicates that Islam Karimov is tired of all the speculation about his successor. In addition, the president also seems to be demonstrating to the public that all are equal in the eyes of the law, even his own daughter, who was accused of corruption and fraud in Switzerland and Sweden. Moreover, Gulnara went as far as to criticise some of the human-rights abuses committed in Uzbekistan under the reign of her father, a move that Karimov deeply disliked and that brought about a strong reaction on the part of the president. Furthermore, analysts contend that even Karimov’s decision to back constitutional amendments that would transfer some power from the presidency to the legislative and executive branches is a tactical move and is not a sign that he is stepping back from politics.

With the president still in power, the choice about succession seems to remain uncertain. Indeed, Uzbekistan may be moving towards a presidency-for-life model. In that case, Malashenko argues, ‘neither Prime Minister Mirzieev nor Minister of Finance Rustam Azimov stand a chance of succeeding while Islam Karimov is still alive’.

Uzbekistan – President’s grandson’s interview sparks new debate over power change

isda islams

In the last year, Uzbekistan has been home to several debates and discussions about a possible power change. A tough battle for power has been going on between the president’s daughter, Gulnara Karimova, and her business network, and the head of the security services, Rustam Inoyatov, and other members of presidential family. The latest chapter of this family saga is the interview that the president’s grandson, Islam Karimov-Maksudi, Gulnara’s eldest son, has released to the Russian channel REN-TV. In the interview, the 21-year-old Oxford student talked about the assassination attempt on his mother and her ‘unofficial’ house arrest. He blamed unknown ‘powerful’ individuals for being behind this situation, and stated that he believes his grandfather is not responsible. Gulnara Karimova has been tied to ongoing money-laundering investigations in Sweden and Switzerland. In Uzbekistan, several of her media outlets have been taken off the air, while her Terra Group media-holding company is being investigated for bribe-taking. Gulnara accused her younger sister and her mother, along with the security services agency, of being behind her judicial proceedings.

The interview generated a number of questions, in particular about the reason why the young Karimov-Maksudi decided to deliver the interview. Ardadiy Dubnov, a Russian political scientist and CIS expert, believes this entire story was made up in Tashkent. The expert has been quoted stating that ‘there are no revelations in [Islam Karimov-Maksudi’s] interview – it is just the next natural step in this propaganda campaign.’ Indeed, the expert said, the interview is aimed at confirming Gulnara’s image as a fighter against the corrupt regime, her family and those ‘obscure forces’ that are taking over the country. This is what she needs to do in order to soften the opinion of her by the West, especially regarding her current criminal charges, concluded the political scientist.

According to Alisher Ilkhamov, Central Asia expert at Open Society Foundations, the idea that interview was a desperate attempt to reach out to President Karimov, who ‘supposedly’ does not know what is going on, is not plausible. He identified the possibility that the president is so weak that he is no longer in control of the situation in his family as ‘the myth of the uninformed Father Tsar.’ He also did not discard the possibility that Islam Karimov-Maksudi may seek political asylum in the UK.

Another expert, Bahrom Hamroev, director of the Help Consulting and Legal Center, commented that the interview was a move backed by pro-Western circles in Tashkent, which are getting ready for a change in power. Hamroev believes President Karimov will be replaced in the 2015 election by the first deputy of the Prime Minister and Minister of Finance, Rustam Azimov, a pro-Western political figure. Hamroev also declared that he thinks Karimov does not want to be president anymore, and that the president’s declaration about his unwillingness to leave after the 2015 election is a window-dressing to reassure Russia of Uzbekistan’s loyalty.

Other elements also seem to support Hamroev’s hypothesis, pointing to a withdrawal of Karimov from the political scene. Beyond the rumors about Karimov’s precarious health condition and his advanced age, the president also ordered a constitutional reform last March, which runs counter the tendency Karimov has been pursuing since early 1990s. The constitutional reform indeed did not strengthen presidential powers. Instead for the first time it strengthened the Prime Minister’s and Parliament’s control over the government. Given that this might be Karimov’s last chance to reform the constitution, he might be willing to genuinely change the balance of power among state institutions.

Islam Karimov became president of Uzbekistan in 1991, 25 years ago, a record he shares with Nursultan Nazarbayev, the Kazakh president. His possible fatigue, the strained relations he has with his family and his age suggests that what is at stake is not only the issue of succession, especially given that opposition leaders from Uzbekistan are either outside the country or dead, but also the issue of the survival of the regime itself after the death of its president.